One winter some years ago I was driving back from Cornwall with a venison Wellington in the boot of my press vehicle. Ford had kindly loaned me a Raptor Ranger, a behemoth, in which I had powered down to Paul Ainsworth’s flagship restaurant No6 in Padstow for a cookery class and a
delightful night’s sleep in his guest house. We had prepared a venison
Wellington – or Welly, as it shall from this sentence be known. Preparing
one wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding, and I do feel that game rolled in rich
mushrooms is a seasonal dish to behold.
The journey back was more agreeable for the company – I carted another course of venison Welly home – and we had a ball in this monster of a car, perched up high above the West Country’s velvety folds of green and frosty white.
A stop in Bath brought decent tapas by way of a restaurant called Pintxo de Bath. It was crowd-pleasing but considered enough: firm prawns in chilli and garlic; boquerones made with Atlantic white anchovies and enlivened by parsley and garlic-hewn olive oil; meatballs, in a soupy but rich tomato sauce; gildas – fashion alert – and calamari. Before all that, sherry, just a drop, and croquetas studded with heady chorizo.
The journey went south after this Spanish-themed stop-off. Apparently I’d forgotten to fill up the car with AdBlue. I still don’t know what this liquid is or does and, frankly, I don’t care. It is too boring to even contemplate but it did mean that come 8pm, I was unable to start the big American-style Ford Raptor, and so began a two-hour wait for the AA.
When he arrived, my man didn’t have a clue what to do with the vehicle. It was more spaceship, cyborg, whatever, than car, and after he had attached his laptop to the on-board “computer” for the third time, he declared quite simply that somebody from Ford was required. It was then that I resigned myself to a Premier Inn, or something far less booked up, and gave the mechanic the venison Welly I’d made earlier – you know, for his trouble. It was cold and dark and he seemed hungry.
In faint desperation, I called a friend, a car journalist called Curtis, who informed me to check the AdBlue levels. I did so, poured a healthy dose into the required slot, and tried again: the engine soon sparked into life. After hearing the Raptor roar from the window of his yellow van, the mechanic asked if I wanted the venison Welly back. Maybe he was embarrassed. I
declined his offer and I hope to this day that he enjoyed it.
Since the excitement of that night, I’ve not had a venison Welly. That looks set to change, because the brilliant Luke Payne, still in his 20s and the chef-owner of the Pack Horse pub in Hayfield in the Peak District, has sent us a recipe for one. He’s also shared his recipes for chestnut puree and braised red cabbage. Christmas will be along soon. And, with the help of a little AdBlue, so will I.
800g venison loin
2 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon English mustard
400g flat mushrooms
8 slices serrano ham
Puff pastry sheet
1 egg yolk
For the CHESTNUT PUREE:
250g cooked chestnuts
2 banana shallots
2 sprig thyme
200ml double cream plus extra
For the BRAISED RED CABBAGE:
½ red cabbage
1 bramley apple
250ml red wine
250ml red wine vinegar
250ml balsamic vinegar
250g soft brown sugar
2 star anise
2 allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick
For the VENISON SAUCE:
3 sticks celery
1 bulb garlic
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly
500ml veal stock
Take the venison loin and trim off any excess fat and sinew, set aside the sinew for the sauce. Season the loins all over with salt.
In a hot pan, add oil, thyme and garlic, then sear the venison loin on each side for 2 minutes. Set aside on a tray and brush with English mustard.
Finely dice the onion and mushrooms for the duxelles. Add oil to a pan and sweat off the onions and mushrooms, seasoning liberally with salt and cooking until as dry as possible. Set aside to cool.
Lay a piece of clingfilm on the bench and spread out the ham slices evenly.
Spread the mushroom duxelles over the ham to create an even layer. Place the venison loin in the centre, take the clingfilm and roll the duxelles and ham around the loin, tying tight at each end.
Place in the fridge for half an hour.
Chiffonade the red cabbage. Finely dice the onion, and peel and dice the bramley apple, removing the core.
Add all the ingredients for the braised cabbage to a large pan and cook on a
medium heat until the liquid has reduced to a syrup, coating the cabbage. Stir regularly.
For the sauce, brown off the venison trim in a pan with oil, thyme and bay.
Roughly dice the onion carrot and celery, halve the garlic bulb and brown
in the pan with venison. Season with salt, then add the port, reducing by half, then add the veal stock and reduce by a quarter. Pass the sauce off and reduce by another half, skimming any impurities from the top. Set aside and
reheat to order.
Finely dice the shallots and add to a pan with broken-up chestnut pieces and
butter. Sweat until golden, then add the cream and thyme. Bring to the boil,
reduce to a simmer and cook for a further 5 minutes, then blitz until smooth and pass through a chinois. Reheat to order.
Preheat a fan oven to 200c. Unwrap the venison parcel from the clingfilm, and tightly wrap in puff pastry. Brush with egg yolk and place in the oven for 20 minutes. To serve the Wellington, cut either end off and then slice down the middle into even round pieces. Serve alongside the chestnut puree, red
cabbage and sauce on the side.